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  • Writer's pictureEvelyn Pollard

Impact on staff morale and wellbeing when leaders fail to address performance and conduct concerns.

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

The thought of managing a staff member’s performance and/or conduct can be both daunting and/or frustrating for any leader. Daunting, because there are so many stories and scare tactics aimed at reducing the confidence of a leader, and frustrating, because leaders often feel like they are caught up in “red tape” about what one can and cannot do in managing a staff member’s performance and/or conduct.

This is exacerbated even more if you are new to a leadership role.

I am often asked, "What is the impact on staff morale if a leader chooses to turn a blind eye to poor performance or conduct?" My response is always, significant!

Case Study

To give you an example of what I mean by “significant”, let me introduce you a business with 115 staff members.

I had only been in the role for 2 months when staff started visiting my office seeking assistance in how deal with a colleague who is not performing and/or behaving poorly.

Taken back, I asked the question, “Why are you not raising this with your respective manager?”. The response back was, “He/she is not interested in dealing with it. I do not trust them to handle it appropriately.”

Thinking that this was a one off, I provided the staff member with the advice needed. Before long, the more staff had approached me. The flood gates were opened! This resulted in me exploring the issue further.

Poor Culture

The business has been struggling with a poor culture for several years. To identify the root cause of the poor culture, the business conducted several employee opinion surveys over a period of 4 years.

In the most recent opinion survey, staff indicated that they did not believe management addressed poor performers or bad/poor behaviours, and that this in turn impacted upon their morale.

I decided to delve further into the results during a face to face workshop with staff. They expressed views that they no longer felt the desire to make the effort to “go the extra mile” when they see poor performers in their area do nothing and still be rewarded or recognised as a team.

What the staff were telling me, was that the leaders should start addressing poor performance and/or conduct rather than ignore it.

Staff Wellbeing

I also started to see evidence that this was also having an impact on staff wellbeing – their mental health. This is not something to be taken lightly.

Staff were starting to use the term “stressed” because management would not act on their concerns. Now this is serious stuff!

The cost of workplace stress is significant. SafeWork Australia has identified an increase in stress related claims, with:

  • 7,200 Australians are compensated for work-related mental health conditions, equating to around 6% of workers’ compensation claims, and

  • approximately $543 million is paid in workers’ compensation for work-related mental health conditions.

They found that work-related stress had been linked with high levels of:

  • unplanned absences including sick leave

  • staff turnover

  • withdrawal and presenteeism, and

  • poor work and poor product quality.

That is serious stuff!

And the impact on staff morale? Significant! If staff see inaction from their leaders to address performance and/or conduct concerns, then of course morale will decline, absenteeism increases, and wellbeing deteriorates.

Imagine working in an environment that is so toxic, that you feel undervalued and not appreciated. You would not want to present to work each day now would you?

Understanding the Gaps

So back to the case study.

With the information from staff at hand, the business could choose to ignore it, or they could attempt to understand where the gaps were.

My next step was then to meet with the leaders 1:1 to understand what barriers they faced.

These meetings were eye opening with the range of responses being that they address performance at the annual performance review time, through to I am not supported by my executive team member to address performance and/or poor behaviour. In between these two extremes were the usual, I am not sure how.

During my 1:1 discussions with the leaders, it became evident that the business was extremely risk averse and that this also contributed to the confidence of the leader to address poor performance and poor conduct.

A risk averse organisation instils fear into their leaders – fear of punishment (“stick”) for making the wrong decision. This is exacerbated by complex industrial legislation.

Way forward

The way forward for this business was to empower its leaders to manage poor performance and/or conduct, and the way this was achieved was for me to start referring staff concerns back to their respective managers.

This was done with care and compassion through me being the initial link between the staff member and their manager. This allowed the opportunity for me to identify individual gaps in the leader’s ability and then to coach the respective manager in the process.

As a result of the coaching and facilitation, staff became more confident in taking their concerns to their respective manager to handle.

Key Takeaways

I am a strong believer of giving people an opportunity to improve. Think of it along the lines of, if it were you, what would you appreciate?

Sometimes, the staff member is unaware of their behaviour and/or conduct, and as a leader, you have a duty of care to ensure the wellbeing of all your staff.

Equally, as a leader, the thought of managing poor performance and/or conduct can be daunting as well as frustrating. There are so many variables and there is not a one size fits all approach.

The first step in any performance or conduct matter is to address the issue promptly. This could be as simple as asking the employee if “everything is okay”. Sometimes, there could be underlying issues that are impacting on the staff member’s performance.

When speaking to the staff member, share your concerns about the impact their performance and/or conduct is having on others within the team. Talk to them about the expectations and place a timeframe on it. It is important to keep the timeframe tight – immediate to one/two weeks.

Once you have met with the employee, document the discussion, as this will become critical if things do not improve.

Most importantly of all, if you are struggling with the process or the context of the concerns raised with you, please seek professional assistance. You are not expected to know it all and sometimes all you need is someone to talk through you particular situations and/or concerns.

We are not all perfect, so it is important that we ask for help when needed. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and ask yourself “What would you like to see happen?”.

The impact on staff morale and wellbeing is significant when leaders do not manage poor performance and/or conduct in a timely manner. It is important that you are proactive in commencing the discussions with the staff member and give them every opportunity to improve.

If after the informal discussions the performance and/or conduct does not improve, it is time to embark on the formal process – this time it is for “keeps”.

[Evelyn Pollard is a human resource, organisational development and industrial relations specialist with extensive experience both at a strategic and operational level. Evelyn is passionate about building organisational capability through facilitating, leading, coaching, mentoring and developing people and successful teams. Further information can be viewed at ]

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